There are things in life that we all take for granted. The support of family and friends surely tops the list, with good health taking the silver medal slot. After that, there’s a plethora of competing hopes, interests and asides vying for time in one’s list of daily priorities.
Help – when we need it – and it can take on many guises, could well be third on that particular pecking order.
And when we seek for it from highly skilled professionals, when we pick up the phone and dial, we readily assume that we’re looking for will be there whenever we so require it.
Take our regional Coast Guard Helicopter service, for example. It’s been in place at Killowen for less than a decade yet it’s difficult to conceive the helicopter not being there given the 242 lives it has saved since 2002.
“We’ve rescued over 40 people so far this year,” said Flight Captain Dara Fitzpatrick during a recent visit to the Coast Guard base at Waterford Airport.
There was no fanfare sought by Dara when issuing such a remark. She wasn’t looking for a halo to be polished or anything like that. There was nothing remotely boastful in the manner of her comment. Quite simply, this is what she and her colleagues do. It’s what they’re trained for.
From an outsider’s perspective, Dara’s line of work sounds like the perfect job for a thrill-seeker, for someone who enjoys life on the edge, for someone who seeks confrontation with danger on a daily basis.
Speaking only for herself, Dara doesn’t see it that way.
“I wouldn’t consider myself an adrenaline junkie,” she says, nestling back into a couch in the base’s mess area.
“I do think the winch crew would see it from a different point of view because of the stuff they have to do, which puts them in physical danger. They have to be fearless.”
During the four hours that this column spent in the company of Dara and her Coast Guard colleagues, their passion for the task at hand could hardly have been in greater evidence.
“The reason I love this job is that I don’t really like routine,” she added. “You don’t really know what’s going to happen.
“You come here on shift and you’ve no idea what’s facing you – you could be sitting here doing nothing or you could be flying – you just have no idea and I love the job because of that uncertainty.”
The Coast Guard base in Waterford – one of only four in the Republic, has seen its fair share of action over the past two months, Dara added.
“We’ve saved so many people over the past six, eight weeks,” she said. “Sometimes you go through stages where you’re doing a lot of searches and you don’t find a body but we’ve done so many really good rescues over the past few months and saved lives. It’s very rewarding work.”
Winch Operator Neil McAdam is keen to stress the statistical side of the base’s success rate.
“We’ve been on 643 jobs here since May 2002 and we’ve saved 242 lives. That’s not people assisted, that’s lives saved and that’s a huge amount considering we’ve only been here for seven years.”
The importance of teamwork and camaraderie literally bounces off the walls of the Coast Guard base. Like any happy family, mutual respect and genuine collegiality makes this a most contented workplace.
“It really is a pleasure to come in here every day and you know that as a crew you will work it out,” said Dara. “You’ll always find a way around it and that’s down to crew co-operation, which is vital in this job. You have to be able to communicate together.
“We sit here for 24 hours and there’s loads of joking and banter and driving each other nuts and stuff, but you’ve got to be able to gel together as a crew when it happens, click into gear and sort it out. Whether you’ve seen it before or not seen it before, you’ve got to find a way to sort it and get it done.”
Everyone working at the base was at pains to stress that they are ready, willing and able to serve a region that; after all, nearly everyone working there also lives in.
“What we have here is a real community asset,” said Dara. “And while maritime is our primary role, we are here for everybody in the south east, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
As for the job’s greatest challenge?
“I think the challenge of the job itself is the greatest thing about it. I mean, things can be quiet for a while and then suddenly you find yourself in a job, both as an individual and as a crew that really tests you. It’s always good.”
So remember, if help is required in an emergency, dial 999 or 112 and ask for the Coast Guard. They’re always there.